Jessie Sharp was the kind of person you notice quickly. It wasn't just the "Rapidman" painted besides the cockpit of his boat, or the spare paddle strapped to the front deck, although either of these stand out, and his technique wasn't flashy; he didn't do the crowd pleasing stunts while surfing. It was almost as if I wanted to say "What's he all cocky for?", but something made me keep my mouth shut; he was that close to the line.
I'm not sure when I first saw him, but I remember the way he handled that boat, paddling the C-1, kneeling with the single bladed paddle, with the aggressive attitude of a kayaker, those of us who sit and use two blades. He'd explode across the eddy line and hit the wave, carving back and forth across it, playing up in the break and then diving down in to the trough, all the while whipping that paddle back and forth across the boat, in and out of the water, like some Samurai sword in a Bruce Lee movie. Finally he'd turn the boat, lean downstream and catch the water, and the boat would whip up over the wave and back into the eddy for another try.
He disappeared from the river for a week or two that summer, and I remember noticing that he'd gone, almost as if he'd become an institution in that short time. When I next saw his boat it was on TV, all battered and scarred, pulled up on to the docks at the bottom of the falls. They never found him.
It wasn't like he didn't know what he was doing. He'd run a 60 foot waterfall before, had his boat specially rigged out for the drop, and he'd thought about such things as not wearing a life jacket so that his arms weren't ripped off when he hit the water. And it shouldn't be that hard, if you're willing to deal with broken bones as part of the trip.
So what went wrong? It looks as though he survived the drop. The harness holding him in to the boat was deliberately unclipped, not broken. The boat was intact enough to look like it hit water, not rocks. It looks like he simply forgot about the hydraulic at the bottom, that flow pattern that tends to keep objects close to the waterfall, and died from being one of those objects.
Which left me thinking: When am I going to make a similar mistake, pull off some spectacular stunt then look really dumb (and dead!) because I miss a little detail. Heck, he'd been planning it for ten years, and it got him. The hard part isn't avoiding that mistake, the hard part is making sure that I don't lose my love of living in being so afraid of dying.
When it comes right down to it, I guess I just hope that they don't find my body either. I'd hate to have anybody be absolutely sure that I'd given up living.